I received a review copy of the book from the publishers as part of the tour in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: historical Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 3 stars Series: yes - first in trilogy
AD173. The Danube lies frozen. On its banks gather the clans of Samartia, their riders winter starved by sickly herds and blighted crops. Petty feuds cast aside and their disparate numbers united in the face of a great enemy. For across the frozen waters stands the mighty Roman Empire, and its Legion marches ever closer.
But the Samartians are proud, and they are cast from the ice itself. They were trained from young to ride and fight and kill on its slippery surface. They cannot lose.
Alone on a bloodied battlefield awakens Kai. Surrounded by the bodies of his people, fallen to the Legion, to have survived is a disgrace. In the aftermath of such defeat, he must navigate a course between honour and shame, his people and the Empire. It is a journey that will take him far to the West, beyond everything he has ever known.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
The Sarmatians (not to be confused with the Samaritans, who lived in very different place of the world) are a people we don’t know that much about. The lived on the other bank of the Danube to the Romans, and clashed with them, ending up part of the Roman cavalry. They have not written record, and not much archaeological leavings, so most of our knowledge come from Roman writings of the time.
It is into this murky near-void that Tim Leach writes. I love seeing writers try to understand people long go, piecing together the fragments and bringing them to the attention of non-scholars. And fiction is such a powerful tool for that, one of the reasons I read a fair bit of historical fiction – I love history, and fiction is a lot more accessible than dense tomes written for academics, a good stepping off point.
A WINTER WAR (the number of times I’ve written “A WINTER’S TALE” after the Shakespeare play!) is a tale of survival, shame, and personal honour as the Romans march on the Sarmatian lands, bringing the clans together to face a common enemy and then breaking them apart.
It was a good choice to pick up when ill, as it’s gripping, but with a more laid back style that meant I was able to put it down when I need a rest, but was still engaged enough to pick it back up as soon as I felt less dizzy.
The writing style is bordering on literary at times, with a narrator that sometimes pulls back to a very distant view of the scene to paint it in stark colours, almost greyscale. It helps describe the world and the harshness of life – the powerful, dangerous steppes, the mingled despair, fear, and anticipation before a battle, and the bloody aftermath.
The brief historical note mentions the link between the Sarmatians and King Arthur. I vaguely was aware of the potential link between the Central Asian horsemen and the knights, if the roots of the myth are indeed in the Romans and then muddled up with the stories from the “Dark Ages.” I would be interested to see if this idea is taken up in the second book, as it looks like Kai might be heading to Britain in service of the Romans.
Read my reviews of other books by Tim Leach:
The Sarmatians (this series):
- THE IRON WAY (#2)